Lil' Brian and The Zydeco Travelers -- who have gained a reputation as the most innovative and musically accomplished young zydeco band - have released their new album, Funky Nation. It is the band's boldest statement yet that zydeco can be a cutting edge sound as vital to a new generation of fans as it has been for longtime buffs. Significantly, it also represents the first time Stanley, "Buckwheat" Dural -- of the genre's top band, Buckwheat Zydeco -- has produced another artist. And, Funky Nation is the first album by another artist to be released on Dural's own record label, Tomorrow Recordings (distributed by Alternative Distribution Alliance.)
"We believe in Lil' Brian and The Zydeco Travelers," says Dural, "and we think Funky Nation will make a believer out of people all over America, too. There is no limit to Lil' Brian's future. He can take zydeco to another level."
The undisputed capital of Lil' Brian Terry's Funky Nation is the hamlet of Barrett Station, Texas -- B.S.T. to those in the know. This unprepossessing, well kept, Texas crossroads just outside Baytown and not far from H-Town (Houston) is smack dab in the middle of East Texas zydeco country. The Creole people of this part of the country, most with strong Louisiana roots, are at least as ardent about zydeco as their neighbors across the border in Louisiana. The clubs, festivals and radio there pulse with zydeco rhythms both traditional and new, enjoyed by young and old.
In this milieu, for the past decade and more, 27-year-old Lil' Brian, and The Zydeco Travelers, have developed a reputation as the most innovative and musically accomplished zydeco band on the scene. Brilliantly drawing upon contemporary urban black sounds while remaining respectful and true to their zydeco roots, Lil' Brian and The Zydeco Travelers have created an incredibly exciting modern form of zydeco music that is both rhythmically and lyrically sophisticated - and just plain unbelievably funky. They have dubbed their music Z-Funk.
Lil' Brian has become an amazing practitioner of both the large piano note accordion and the old-style diatonic accordion. And he is serious about showing how this instrument can be as hip as any in contemporary music.
"There are no limits to this music, " he says. "I love the roots of zydeco, but we listen to the music that's happening today, and my music is the way I feel the music today."
Brother Patrick "Heavy P" Terry, on guitar, anchors this hot young band, and co-wrote the entire album of original songs with Lil' Brian. His dazzling solos and super-cool rhythm guitar licks add an element of musical sophistication unmatched in zydeco music. Emerson "Funky E" Jackson is the "funkmaster general" of this outfit, laying down bass lines with ease that probably would never even occur to most. Rubboard player, Mandrell Rideau (a.k.a. Green Eyed Bandit) never falters as he locks the band into its zydeco roots. And, twenty-year-old Tony Stewart on drums plays with great excitement and verve while establishing a funky groove like an artist mature well beyond his years.
Helping Lil' Brian and the Zydeco Travelers to take such bold steps on Funky Nation, is mentor and musical Godfather, Stanley "Buckwheat" Dural, Jr. who produced the album along with longtime collaborator and manager, Ted Fox. It was at Buckwheat Zydeco's wild shows in Houston's Catholic church halls that twelve-year-old Lil' Brian was first spellbound by the big piano note accordion played by the Maestro. Buck encouraged the youngster, and was instrumental in launching his career. Lil' Brian responded by absorbing Buck's musical lessons and developing his utter confidence in his ability to take zydeco where it had never been before. Brian even had a picture of Buck's accordion tattooed on his right biceps!
Lil' Brian first picked up an accordion at age thirteen. He and his parents, Felmon and Velma, were befriended by Dural who encouraged the youngster. Lil' Brian also benefited from his exposure to his distant relatives, the father and son zydeco greats, John and Geno Delafose whom Lil' Brian and Pat would visit in Louisiana on summer vacations. With help from Mom and Dad, Lil' Brian outfitted a band and began playing local gigs. A year later, at the suggestion of Dural, he sent the first of several demo tapes to Rounder Record's Scott Billington. Longtime Buckwheat Zydeco bassist, Lee Allen Zeno, began working with the band, and went on to co-produce with Billington Lil' Brian and The Zydeco Travelers' first two albums, Fresh (1995) and Z-Funk (1997).
The reviews for these albums established Lil' Brian and The Zydeco Travelers as one of the top new zydeco bands. The Seattle Rocket called them "the freshest thing to come along in zydeco in decades," and said, "his debut album finds this band as tight as The Meters, as funky as The Nevilles and as purely danceable as Clifton Chenier." Thomas J. Cullen in Blues Revue called Z-Funk, "most likely to be the top zydeco album of 1997."
Funky Nation is Lil' Brian and The Zydeco Travelers most dazzling effort yet. The seven-and-a-half minute lead and title track firmly establishes the fact that the listener is about to embark on a musical journey into very funky new territory, and challenges all given expectations of what zydeco can be. This tour de force is Lil' Brian's statement of his intention to energize, excite and unite the music world behind his amazing new concept of the power of contemporary zydeco. The eleven originals that follow range from the party-hearty grooves of "Get Up On That Zydeco" and "Party" to the lush, rich lyrical beauty of "Question," "Summer Girl" and "Black Butterfly," to the squeeze-box stomp of "Makin' Green" and "Jackin' This Song" to the old style tribute of "Uncle Cliff" to the down-and-dirty dancehall funk of "Thigh Drivin'," "807 Magnolia" and "Back Stabbers."
It all adds up to make Funky Nation a wild roadmap to where zydeco is going in the new millennium.